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Season's thievings: Disabled man has part of wheelchair lift stolen

Thanks to a thief who may not have known what he took or be able to use it, a wheelchair-bound Merced man is missing something very dear to him -- his mobility.

Craig Garrett discovered Saturday that thieves took the power box that operates his wheelchair lift, along with two stereo speakers. In breaking into Garrett's 1992 Chevrolet S-10 pickup with 148,000 miles, the thief also damaged the driver's door lock and makes access to the truck difficult.

"I feel like I've been violated, taken advantage of," Garrett said. "It's ironic; I would tell the people who took my stuff that I hope they have a happy holidays. I hope they realized what they did and feel real good."

The 19-year-old Merced College student has had spina bifida since birth and regularly uses his wheelchair. The system that hoists his 50-pound wheelchair into the pickup bed costs about $4,000 and Garrett isn't sure what the controller part costs by itself.

Sgt. Alan Ward of the Merced Police Department said the thieves struck sometime Friday night or Saturday morning at the Willowbrook Apartments, 1620 Willowbrook Drive. Thieves could turn in the purloined power box or call the department at 385-6912 with information about the theft.

"It's just unbelievable. Especially at this time of the year, people will steal anything and everything," Ward said.

Garrett said he can do pretty much anything for himself. A psychology major with an interest in taxidermy, hunting and fishing, he gets his own groceries and runs his own errands. He admits this incident has shaken his faith in humanity.

"Hopefully somebody will turn it in, put it in a paper bag and turn it in at the police station. I just want it back," Garrett said. The theft probably isn't personal but he is taking it personally.

He is not sure what will happen next. Garrett can use crutches but mostly gets around in his wheelchair. A friend is going to see if he can repair or replace the truck's lock today. He will try to contact the Modesto company that sells the lift system but is not sure if they are open over the Christmas holidays.

Garrett moved to Merced six months ago from the Hilmar area. He said one used to be able to leave doors unlocked in Hilmar and leave the car running while going into a convenience store to get a soda.

"You almost can't trust anybody now," Garrett said. "I would have given them the speakers if they needed them that bad. You'd like to think you're in control of your life. I'd like to think you can take care of yourself."

Christina Zamora of Modesto, the sister of Garrett's girlfriend, said Garrett is a determined and ambitious young man who has not let his disability stop him. Having to fix his car and replace the power box will be a huge financial stress, she said.

"I just thought maybe, just maybe, the thieves didn't realize what they were taking and would return it if they knew," Zamora said. "Thieves with a heart? Perhaps."

Ironically, Garrett had the speakers for about six months. The speakers cost $40 each and his brother gave them to him after they wouldn't fit in his pickup.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at 209 385-2485 or dyawger@mercedsun-star.com.

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